Imagining Climate Change: Fiction, Memory, and the Anthropocene
This FWO-funded research project (2016-2020) explores how imaginative literature has responded to the representational and existential challenges thrown up by climate change. It combines theoretical argument with case studies of Anglophone literary texts exemplifying major trends in climate fiction or “cli-fi,” particularly to do with issues of memory. It consists of three interrelated strands. Focusing on the popular device of a historian, geologist, or archivist looking back from a climate-changed future world, the first strand examines how, why, and to what effect cli-fi remembers the reader’s present from the perspective of the future. The second strand historicizes cli-fi – which is typically discussed in isolation, as if it were a wholly new and unprecedented kind of literature – by connecting it to literary responses to earlier crises that radically altered humanity’s relationship to the past, present, and future: the discovery of geological time in the early nineteenth century and the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation. The third strand investigates to what extent cli-fi remembers different degrees of responsibility for climate change and its differential impacts on richer and poorer countries, which the developing Anthropocene narrative risks forgetting. The project’s overall aim is to contribute to the humanistic endeavour to help incorporate the far-reaching consequences of climate change into human experience and thereby to assist us in confronting them more effectively.